Today is the appearance of Lord Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna. According to the Vaishnava tradition, Balarama is the first expansion of Krishna in the form of Sesa, and everything then eminates from him, and is therefore also known the original Guru. In his other incarnations or avatars he is known as Laxman, brother of Lord Ramachandra and Nityananda the associate of Lord Chaitanya. Bala means strength and we pray to him for spiritual strength. This is also the last day of the Julan Yatra or swing festival. Devotees re-enact swinging Radha and Krishna on a beautifully decorated swing. The annual festival celebrating the bond between brother and sister is also celebrated on this day. Many sisters will tie a string around the wrists of their brothers for his protection and in turn the brother will reciprocate with a gift.

Julan Yatra at Bhaktivedanta Manor

 

 

Diwali Rangoli  made with coloured powders decorating the ground to welcome guest

Diwali – the festival of lights in some communities spans five days during October/November in the sacred month of *Kartik. For many Hindus Diwali marks the New Year.  The forms of Laksmi/Sita (Goddess of wealth and prosperity) & Rama are worshiped by most Hindu.

This is the most widely celebrated festivals in the Hindu calendar derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Diwali celebrates the homecoming of Lord Ram and Sita after a 14 year exile. The festival signifies triumph of good over evil and light over darkness after their time in the forest.

Re-enactment of the Ramayan. Traditionally scriptures were re-enacted to pass on the teachings, typically during festivals.

 

The festival celebrated with elaborate firework displays. Homes are thoroughly cleaned and lamps and candles are lit to welcome the Goddess Laksmi. Hindus believe that the light will guide Rama and Sita into their homes and hearts. Traditionally friends and family exchange parcels of sweets and gifts. Sweets are given to encourage sweet relationships and to forgive any past disagreements.

The five days of Diwali:

  1. Dhanteras – the day Dhanvantari – God of medicine (Ayurveda) inaugurator of medical science. Some communities will purchase gold/silver, steel utensil or something to add to their home.
  2. Naraka Chaturdasi – Lord Krishna defeats the Narakasura who kidnapped thousands and of princess and held them captive.
  3. Diwali Day
  4. Gorvadhan Puja – Krishna lifts the Gorvadhna hill to protect the villagers of Vrindavan from Indra’s (King of the heavens and rain) anger. The cows are also worshipped on Gorvadhan Puja.
  5. Bhai Buj – A day when brother visit the home of their sisters. They would bring gifts for their sisters and partake in a meal she would cook. Sisters also pray for their brothers safety on this day. The tradition began when Yamaraj the God of death visited his sister Yamuna and gave her the blessing, that whomever visits her on this day will achieve Moksha (Liberation).

Offerings on the alter at Bhaktivedanta Manor for Gorvadhan Puja

 

Worshipping the cows at Bhaktivedanta Manor

*When the planet Sun enters in the sign of Tula(Libra), the lunar month of Kartik begins. The month of Kartik which is also known as the Damodar maas/month is suggested as being one of the best months for observing austerities. Religious acts performed during this month is said to provide results equivalent to a visit to all places of pilgrimages. Coming from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, during this month we offer lamps/candles everyday and sing the praises of Krishna in his form as Damodar.

Damodar Krishna with His Mother Yashoda

Janmastami is the birthday of Lord Krishna.

Many Hindus accept Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu (and often list Him as the eighth incarnation instead of Balaram). Others hold that Krishna is the original form of God and the source of all Vishnu forms. His skin is blue, like rain clouds and His clothes yellow, like the sun. He carries a flute and loves all animals, especially the cows.

An artist depiction of Krishna and His brother Balaram walking though the forest of Vrindavan, the place where Krishna spent His childhood.

Why does Lord Krishna appear? Many Hindus will be familiar with the following verse from the Bhagavad Gita: “To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Chapter 4, verse 8)

How is this day celebrated?

On this day festivities begin before dawn and continue throughout the day until midnight. The celebrations include kirtan (singing and dancing), theatrical performances, dance, interactive media shows, children’s shows and devouring the most delicious of dishes and delicacies prepared especially for the occasion of Janmashtami.

The Deities are dressed in special outfits; the altar and temple room elaborately decorated with fresh fragrant flowers and vibrant colourful furnishings to mark this special time.

The following video highlights some of the activities at Bhaktivedanta Manor.

Janmastami at Bhaktivedanta Manor

 

 


Rath Yatra literally means “cart festival”. Jagannath Rathyatra is celebrated every year on the 2nd day of the Shukla Paksha (waxing cycle of the moon) in the month of Asadh, the 3rd month (May/June) according to the vedic lunar calendar. Originally the festival has its foundation in the residents of Vrindavan bringing back their Lords, Krishna and His siblings, Balaram and Lady Subhadra from Kurukshetra.

Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) travels from his temple in Puri, to his garden temple, located outside the town centre called Gundicha. Many thousands of Hindus flock to see, and to pull the grand chariots from one temple to the other. The pulling of the cart symbolises the pulling the Lord back to our hearts thus developing bhakti (love of God).

The English word “Juggernaut” comes from the giant chariots of Lord Jagannath of Puri.

San Francisco 1967

Rathyatra festival was introduced to the western world by Srila Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, in San Francisco 1967. Since then this festival is celebrated in many cities worldwide at various times of the year.

 

 

 

Nrsimha Chaturdasi is the day Lord Nrsimhadeva (nri-SING-ha-deva) appeared on the earth.

After Varahadev killed the demon Hiranyaksha, the demon’s younger brother, Hiranyakashipu, performed severe austerities which made him the most powerful being in the universe. Although Lord Brahma could not grant him immortality, he did give Hiranyakashipu blessings, that he could not be killed by any man or animal, by anything living or dead, during the day or night, inside or outside, on the land or in the sea or sky.

Although seemingly invincible, Hiranyakashipu tormented his youngest son Prahlada in many ways, but because he was a pure devotee of Lord Krishna he was not harmed. Then, the Lord burst out of a palace column as Nrisimhadeva. By killing Hiranyakashipu in the form of a half-man and half-lion, with his fingernails, at dusk, in the threshold of the palace and on his lap, Nrisimhadeva simultaneously respected the blessings given by Brahma and saved His dear devotee Prahlada Maharaja.

 

Deity of Lord Rama in the centre with Sita and Laxman at his side. The monkey god Hanuman is kneeling before Them.

Ramanavami celebration observes the birth of Lord Rama, and is one of the most auspicious days in the Vaisnava calendar.  Lord Rama is an avatar of the Supreme Lord who appeared on this earth several millennia ago.

At Bhaktivedanta Manor, celebrations for Ramanavami include special decorations, drama, discussion of Lord Rama’s pastimes and a harinama (chanting procession) in a local town.  It is a popular occasion, as Lord Rama is very dear to many devotees.  During His activities while on Earth, Lord Rama demonstrated high moral values and acted as the perfect son, student, brother, husband and King.  His extraordinary adventure is marvellously depicted  in the famous epic The Ramayana.

How is this day celebrated around the world?

  • an all day fast
  • worshipping Lord Rama
  • listen or narrating the epic Ramayana
  • conducting processions
  • conducting yajna (ritual sacrifice)

Why do your Gods have lots of extra body parts?

Four armed form of Lord Vishnu in the causal ocean. From his body the various universes are created.

Hindus believe God is limitless so there is no end to his power, creation or particular form that he would take.

Many images of Hindu Gods show them with many arms. The many arms represent the different strengths and powers each god has. The Item that they hold in their arms represents the focus of their meditation.

Lord Brahma has 4 heads. He is the creator and his four heads represent the 4 directions: north, south, east and west.

Who is the founder of Hinduism? Who is the founder of your type of Hinduism?

Hinduism has no single founder. Also refer to Q&A from previous schools.

ISKCON or Hare Krishnas follow the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Gaudya Vaishnavas believe that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a direct avatar of Krishna/Vishnu. He came to this world to revive the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, spread the message of bhakti yoga (loving devotional service to God) and establish the sankirtan movement (singing and chanting the names of God).

How many Gods are there altogether?

Gaudiya Vaishnavas and many other Hindus believe that there is only one God, and that God chooses to have many helper gods . The scriptures say that there are 33 million helper gods or demigods.

Have cows always been sacred to you?

Krishna with the cows and his cow herder friends

Yes cows have always been sacred to us. Lord Krishna was a cow herder as a young boy and cows are very dear to Him. Without ghee (clarified butter made from cows milk) fire yajna/sacrifice cannot be performed. The cow is also referred to as our mother because she gives us milk.

How many Hare Krishna temples are there and where are they?

In our specific branch (ISKCON) there are about 600 worldwide and 11 in the UK.  For a full list of temples visit: http://centers.iskcondesiretree.com/

Why do you wear Bindi?

Young lady wearing a red bindi with other decorative bindis

Most married women would wear a red (or similar colour) bindi. Red bindis are also worn by both men and women after they have performed a puja/ritual prayer, for protection. Sometimes young children would wear a black bindi for protection. Colourful bindis are worn as a form of decoration.

Are the male Gods more important than the female Gods?

We would not say that one would be more important than the other. Both male and female Gods are equally revered and important by the worshiper.

What are the names of your traditional clothing?

The women would wear a sari and the men a dhoti accompanied by a turban. Both men and women would wear a chuddar or shawl.

Gaura Purmina (meaning “golden full moon”) is the birthday anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534). This festival is celebrated in February/March and coincides with the festival of Holi.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Gaudiya refers to the region of Gauda (present day Bengal/Bangladesh) and Vaishnavism “the worship of Vishnu or Krishna”.

Ladies dancing and singing as part of sankirtan.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a direct avatar of Krishna/Vishnu. He came to this world to revive the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, spread the message of bhakti yoga (loving devotional service to God) and establish the sankirtan movement (singing and chanting the names of God).

 

 

A New History of India, by Stanley Wolpert, states, “In Bengal the most popular of all bhakti Hindu preachers was the teacher Chaitanya.” In A History of Indian Philosophy, the respected Surendranath Dasgupta writes, “The religious life of Chaitanya unfolds unique psychological symptoms of devotion which are perhaps unparalleled in … history….” And the Encyclopaedia Brittanica refers to Lord Chaitanya’s “profound and continuing effect on the religious sentiments of his Bengali countrymen.” The Brittanica also states that Lord Chaitanya propagated “the community celebration [sankirtan] of Krishna as the most powerful means of bringing about the proper bhakti attitude.”

How do we observe this day?

As part of the festivities and the Murti/Deity is also bathed. Here the priests shower flowers Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda. This is an example of bhakti yoga.

On this day, which is a full-moon day, everyone fasts till moonrise, and devotees visit the temple to see the Murti/Deities of the Lord in the temple room. The devotees present dramas and classes about Lord Chaitanya’s activities. The Murti/Deities of Gaura-Nitai receive new clothes, and the devotees engage in extra kirtan (congregational chanting). At moonrise we serve a prasad feast (sanctified vegetarian food).

Bhaktivedanta Players re-enact a story from the Bhagavat Purana at a Gaurapurnima festival in London.